Understanding The Impact Of Google’s Medic Update On Health Sites

The impact of Google's medic update can be complicated and difficult to understand. Here's what to know about what an impact it can make

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October 4, 2019
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It’s been a year since Google rolled out its Medic update. Little did we know it would be an algorithm adjustment that’s still troubling health websites today — and for good reason.

Many marketers and health professionals will have heard of the Medic update. However, not many truly understand its impact. Even fewer are aware of why it happened or how it helps serve internet users.

In fact, the Medic update has been highly influential in policing online content. The algorithm change works to ensure that authoritative, expert, and trustworthy answers appear at the top of the search results. Pages that don’t match these criteria now reside at the bottom.

In a bid to fight online misinformation, Google scoured every corner of the internet to penalize websites offering inaccurate information written by unqualified authors. This is a trend that we’ve seen so much of on Facebook recently and is clearly something that the search engine doesn’t want to replicate.

As we noted, not every website survived Google’s thorough search. Many diet websites and eCommerce websites, in particular, saw their rankings slashed.

In theory, this results in a safer space for online research. A doctor referring to an online source for dosage information can be sure that they are getting an accurate result. Similarly, an average Joe who decides to run their symptoms by Doctor Google will be faced with legitimate answers. The idea is that even if the topic searched is a matter of opinion, the information given should, at the very least, come from an accredited industry source. To find out more about the update, we’ve listed all the facts below.

All You Need to Know about the August 2018 Medic Update

In August 2018, the algorithm shift was coined the Medic update by search writer Barry Schwartz in his analysis of its impact on health-related websites.

Google categorized the Medic update as a run-of-the-mill “broad core algorithm update”. But Schwartz wasn’t so convinced. He argued that the shift in rankings seemed to be largely isolated to domains in the health sphere. Barry’s review showed that sites containing sensitive information and advice regarding health suffered the most. These types of pages, called YMYL (Your Money Your Life) pages, are explained in the same article as “those focused on money and life events.” Barry’s data and resilient argument caused others to agree with him and the August update soon became known as the Medic update to all.

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Following Schwartz’s early analysis, other search writers and esteemed publications latched onto the idea that part of Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines acted as the framework for the update. Within the document, Google outlines a set of criteria acronymized as E-A-T.

Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness are the three indicators of content quality, according to Google. Assumedly, they are also the factors Google’s algorithm checks when making ranking decisions.

Instead of evaluating pages based on their popularity, Google has evolved the way its crawlers and manual checkers works. A more sophisticated way to check the quality of a website is to review its content from a human perspective. Does the content provide the reader with a comprehensive, expert review of the topic? Does the content come from an authoritative, well-known source? Does the content seem to be helpful to others and incite trust?

Asking these questions, instead of counting views, clicks, and other quantitative metrics, ensures that false, damaging information doesn’t slip through the cracks. In part, this is why Google has won the search engine war and surpassed once-popular platforms such as Yahoo. Google’s unwavering commitment to user experience continues to solidify its top spot among other, weaker competitors.

As such, the Medic update was the first of many algorithm updates that deployed the same approach. Although Google has never admitted it, this year’s June core update shared some similarities.

Why It Was a Triumph for Quality Medical Publications

What seems to be a disaster for most websites is a blessing for quality medical outlets. The Google Medic update is rarely written about in a wholly positive light. Most dedicated articles revolve around recovery — not recognition.

The few websites that continually publish quality content were rewarded, proving not every domain was a victim of Google’s update.

Among these were information-givers with expert content, authoritative research providers, and academic hubs that hold an abundance of trust. Not only did these deserving few survive the invasive search, but in some cases, they also climbed the rankings — right to the very top. What’s a page-one piece of content worth? Some studies predict that the website ranking in first position on a Google search page attracts around one-third of traffic, or a whopping 33% of all visitors.

The Medic update pushed worthy content into the limelight and, in turn, showed the importance of using qualified medical writers and accredited doctors, and publishing on established publications. In the same vein, it also dissuaded those with the wrong intentions from spreading false information for the sake of monetary or social gain.

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The Only Way to Improve Authority and Rankings in Google (If You Were Hit by Google Medic)

In this new approach to content quality, there is no fast track to ranking success.

The only way to improve authority and rankings in Google is through honest, hard work. Post-Google Medic, the search engine is still aggressively policing its platform with sporadic yet regular algorithm checks and manual searches of domains.

In short, you can only improve your website’s authority if it possesses quality content. There’s no way to “trick” the search engine into thinking you have the best information on the internet. In that regard, you should ask yourself whether it’s worth the long haul to slowly improve your website’s positioning.

If you decide that it’s worth working on your website, you should approach it as a whole — as Google’s John Mueller advises. Following the Medic update, Mueller joined a conversation on Reddit about site recovery. His general advice was to avoid trying to pinpoint a specific cause for concern. At best, Mueller advises you’ll experience “incremental wins” by fixing small technical issues. The technical issues he’s referring to might be an incorrect translation tool on your website or a messy domain structure — things some affected sites have seen the benefits of tweaking.

Ultimately, to radically improve your site’s ranking, you’ll need to review your website — and the audience you target — as a whole.

This means investing in solid research and hiring freelance medical writers to assist with the creation of content. In this age, a fleshed-out author bio is everything. Needless to say, the person behind the content is just as important as the content itself. Once a quality piece of content is created, it should be paired with a comprehensive description of its writer, their qualifications, and any proof that they hold adequate knowledge of the topic.

Conclusion

Before you hit publish on any piece of content, it’s crucial to check that you’re not adding to the pile of misinformation that now exists online. If you do, you’ll be wasting any reader’s time and be held accountable for spreading damaging information, which isn’t very good for your bottom line. Post-Google-Medic, it’s also your own time that you’ll be wasting since the content is increasingly unlikely to perform well in search.